Sunday, September 26, 2021

Mike Davis: I love my job, I love my team

Utopia’s Norman Kahn interviews Universal Studios Japan’s Mike Davis

For the world’s leading theme parks, live entertainment has become a valuable model to connect with the audience.  The personal interaction between the characters or other guests, the thematic atmosphere, the effects, music and lights… these are essential elements that can’t be experienced at home.

Mike Davis, Senior Vice President/Executive Producer for Universal Studios Japan, knows all too well the importance of creating that emotional connection with each guest. For the past 35 years he has produced countless, award winning and critically acclaimed spectaculars such as Peter Pan’s Neverland (Thea Award recipient), The Gift of Angels (IAAPA Awardee), Fantastic World, and WICKED, a 30-minute version of the Tony Award winning musical. The USJ entertainment group was recently honored with awards for two different live shows that opened last year: The Song of an Angel (Thea Award for Outstanding Achievement – Event Spectacular), and The Rainbow Circus (2013 IAAPA Brass Ring Award for overall production). Mike Davis will be speaking in the conference program at the 2014 IAAPA Asian Attractions Expo in Beijing this June.

In anticipation of his presentation, I spoke with him to discuss his stellar track record, and some of the elements he feels are absolutely vital to make these experiences successful. Ad Utopia NEW

What do you most enjoy doing when producing a show?

By far the best part is bringing together the right team of creative and production experts to chase the vision of the experience. I know once we assemble the ideal group of individuals, we will easily put together a successful production.

How do you incorporate new technology into the way you tell stories?

Technologies are tools that can help tell and deliver the story in an exciting, unique and inventive way. As long as they enhance the storytelling process and do not upstage the story, then I embrace them and try to use them to their greatest value for the overall experience.

USJ2012_SongofanAngelUniversal Studios Japan is a huge theme park. How do you create an emotional connection with such a large audience?

I think the key is to know the emotional connection(s) you are trying to make with your specific audience. Certain stories and certain settings make the connection process easier to achieve. Though the audience is huge for many of our offerings, it’s vital to try to make the story “personal” so each guest believes you are speaking to them.

How do you, as a producer, encourage your colleagues in the design and production team to express themselves creatively and contribute to the process?

I remind them that this is a “team sport.” Though we all have our areas of expertise, the diversity of viewpoints on all creative components of a show are made better when the collective wisdom and POV of team members are eagerly and professionally expressed in an environment of collaboration.

What is the most important thing you do to motivate your team to award winning excellence? 

You must remember to strive for excellence in all you do, never be afraid to change your mind if it will make the show better and when problems arise (and they always do), seek the right answer, not just the easy one!

“The Song of an Angel” was a new extension of previous efforts by USJ in projection and other technologies. What was the biggest challenge in mounting this show?

We had to make sure the digital projection and mapping components were a dramatic and iconic enhancement to the overall show, while not letting them upstage and overpower the story and performers. The projection mapping technology needed to be balanced with the other equally strong aspects of the production.

USJ2013_RainbowCircus_02How does it feel to have TWO awarded shows this year? I know you have received both of these awards in previous years as well. What is your secret, Mr. Davis? 

It feels fantastic! The success comes from putting together and working with a great team, being willing to try new things and push the envelope. It also comes from relying on my 35 years of producing shows and events, while always remembering that all my past failures and successes have enabled the expertise I depend on in every project. And most of all… I love my job!

Norman Kahn is an award winning producer who has spent over two decades designing, producing and operating large scale attractions and events for theme parks and special venues for clients including Universal Studios, Paramount Parks, Six Flags and Merlin Entertainment. His most recent productions include the Solar Decathlon, the Langham Place Light Show, and a Holiday Light Show for the Resorts of Dana Point. He is CEO of Utopia Entertainment located in Los Angeles, California.
Martin Palicki
Martin Palicki owns and publishes InPark Magazine. Started in 2004, InPark Magazine provides owners and operators the perspective from "in"side the "park." Martin has also written for publications like Sound & Communications, Lighting & Sound America, Attractions Management and others. Martin has been featured in Time Magazine, CNN.com and Folio. Martin lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA.
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